Branded Panels: How Candidness Attracts a new and invaluable insight.

In today’s social media-driven market—in which transparency is among the most potent loyalty drivers of all—a new and powerful research tool has emerged – the online branded panel.

Where traditional panels will always be indispensible for their detachment—for how they reach respondents anonymously through an intermediary—a branded panel is like approaching customers with a tap on the shoulder. (What do you think of this? What else can we do for you?) It’s an in-context conversation with intentions and identities as clear as they would be face-to-face.

Such exposure can be a little unnerving for researchers and brands accustomed to the tried and true blanket of anonymity. But these days, forthrightness is not only in fashion—it’s expected and returned. In posing earnest questions to customers directly, open the door to a new kind of insight that’s as energizing to receive as it is for customers to give.

A Newly Opened Door:

Two-way conversation humanizes buying experience. It’s not so much that branded panels unlock a door. Rather, they open a door you didn’t even know existed—and that door remains continually open for iterative conversations over time. Not long ago, it was onerous and expensive to stage even one exchange between a brand and its customers—let alone a back-and-forth engagement that might last a year or two. Today, customers can serve not only as one-time respondents, but as an indispensable sounding board.

Lively, two-way conversation compels today’s customers because it humanizes buying experiences to feel less like a transaction and more like a blossoming relationship. This is new. People don’t just part with money for the timely delivery of a product. They feel an affinity with their favorite brands, a matching of identity and values.

On this stage, a brand that openly asks questions—and more importantly, that listens and responds—earns credibility from people who would otherwise feel indifferent, unheard, or uninvested in research altogether.

Credibility is a win-win. Customers, honored with being a part of a brand’s direction and development, become more deeply engaged—and this very enthusiasm earns the brand a more spontaneous and plentiful insight that informs smarter strategy.

Posed with eyes open and in-context, a series of questions need not be seen as an interruption. It is a backstage pass.

1 / do research you couldn’t do before:

There’s a wealth of insight that awaits brands bold enough to step into the light. Customers are inclined to be more unfiltered, more animated, more detailed in their responses. They might even gush a little. Knowing who they’re talking to injects more color or passion or conviction into the conversation—a color that is in itself of great value. A color that’s much more difficult to attract through an anonymous filter.

Funnel innovation from the grassroots to the powers-that-be. There used to be all kinds of barriers to longitudinal research—to establishing a sounding board. It was expensive, unwieldy, and impractical. Branded panels, however, are founded on the very notion of making it easy to ping your insiders, your loyalists, your ambassadors, and your power users.

With all the tools we have today, all you need do to get customers to be more engaged is ask them to be more engaged. Transform purchasers into ambassadors and consultants. Ask them to reflect on your storefront, campaign or product assessment with an invested, critical eye. A clothing designer might ask an elite of enthusiastic customers to try on the brand’s latest clothes and send back pictures of themselves with feedback—giving the brand’s designers a chance to assess and fine-tune their work on the bodies of normal people. Branded panels feed product development, trials, and idea generation—and the more immediately you funnel innovation from the grassroots to the powers-that-be, the faster you can get relevant, validated products to market.

2 / reach people you couldn’t reach before:

Thanks to pre-existing trust or familiarity, branded panels compel research-averse people to participate. And there—right there—is where you capture the ever-elusive freshness. With so many competing researchers fighting for mindshare, the overlap buy cheap celexa online among willing respondents is significant. Feedback from genuinely interested people is a valuable and delightful thing.

For the most part, invitations to participate in branded panels are exclusive and strategically issued to people who self-identify. It doesn’t feel like their information has simply been brokered to a random third party to which they have no attachment, their answers herded into a receptive black hole. They can see and feel the change that results from their contribution. A transparent, candid purpose—let’s talk instead of please take this survey—makes both questions and answers more relevant, surveys more enjoyable, and feedback more valuable.

Curious about the motivations of your high spenders? Or which coupons and deals attract hesitant personalities? Or what environmental elements make shopping fun for impulse buyers? Ask them. They’ll tell you.

Your customers already know and love your brand. If not, they’d appreciate the chance to tell you why. At the very least, members on a branded panel will be receptive to your questions. And receptivity, when it comes to insight, is quality.

3 / increase the proximity of insight:

While they tend to have fewer moving parts and greater autonomy, branded panels are not just about more-for-cheaper. When the data is yours and the panel members are closely-held, spontaneous insight is low-hanging fruit that feeds daily decision-making.

Take your brand into new territory.Imagine this. In a brainstorming session one day, a development team along with your CEO come up with an idea for a product that pushes the boundaries of anything your company has produced before. It takes your brand into new territory—and while the enthusiasm is palpable, your head of sales and a few key board members are unconvinced of its feasibility. As the head of marketing, you collaborate with your research team to run the idea past 1,000 customers in your loyalty program. Two days later, the answer is in: 83% of panel members love the idea, as long as the new product is rolled out with one-step integration to your existing products—a consideration you now pass to your designers to start sketching out.

An open, branded conversation self-nurtures. A base of panel members grows more rich, more mature, and more valuable with every question, quarter, product, or interaction. The more you ask worthy questions, the more attached they get to giving worthy answers. In the realm of panel management, a branded effort is a comparative dream—as long as you’re ready for candidness and ready to respond to it in kind.

No single research method can address all needs, but the accessibility of branded panels make them less of a one-off grilling and more a light and easy pulse-taking over time.

4 / benefit from a virtuous circle of research:

Members of a branded panel are likely to be more invested in you and your listening than a completely unattached, purchased sample of random contacts. While some types of panel research require detached objectivity and anonymity, there is no downside to nurturing, alongside the usual conventional market research, a circle of brand ambassadors.

Ask already-invested customers how they feel about their experience of your brand. Get answers. Tell customers what changes you made because of those answers—improvements, service tweaks, new layers of fan participation—and make each individual that much more likely to be open to further questions. Increase brand affinity by listening. Encourage candidness by being candid.

Today’s customers are honored to be asked for their opinion. Affinity fosters participation. Participation fosters affinity.

In Conclusion:

In market research, spontaneous, authentic conversation is unexpected amid the usual plethora of binary answers. Consider adding an element of brand-visible candidness into the mix—and consider the reward of strategic yet agile insight.

Frank questions don’t just generate multi-faceted and worthwhile answers. They engage people in a way that generates brand respect.

A well-run branded panel is the research you didn’t know you needed. Once you begin asking questions in the open, you won’t be able to imagine a research toolkit without the option of a backstage pass.

By Jennifer Reid, SVP of Strategy, Vision Critical